Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Messi – just some of the greats to have built their reputation in Number 10. And now, the UK has a new man in Number 10 for the world to watch. After an 8 week one-sided battle Boris Johnson was yesterday confirmed as the new leader of the UK Conservative Party and by default the UK’s next Prime Minister. The question from the automotive sector now is what will Boris bring to the role in Number 10.
Top of the list of priorities – and arguably the only reason why Mr Johnson is Prime Minister in the first place – is to progress the delicate Brexit scenario that the UK finds itself in. Some want in, some want out, some want half-in, some want half-out but not enough can agree on any single solution.
Boris Johnson has made it clear during his leadership campaign that he will take the UK out of Europe with or without a deal on October 31st. He has also stated that for a deal to be agreed the thorny issue of the “backstop” must be removed. This however is extremely unlikely to happen as Ireland – strongly supported by the EU – refuse to risk the return of a hard border just to accommodate a deal between the UK and EU.
The automotive industry is one of the industries most at peril from a no-deal Brexit. The CEO of SMMT – the UK Car Industry Body – Mike Hawes this week stated that “Leaving the EU without a deal would trigger the most seismic shift in trading conditions ever experienced by automotive, with billions of pounds of tariffs threatening to impact consumer choice and affordability,” it said. A pretty stark warning.
But perhaps one of Boris’ most talked-about traits – his ability to swiftly turn 180o degrees on policy matters – could be the automotive industry’s saving grace here. During the leadership campaign Boris was evidently trying to appeal to the Brexit hardliners in the party, hence the “we will leave Europe at all costs on 31st October” mantra throughout the campaign. But perhaps now that he finds himself in the seat of power, Boris may find his positioning “softening” (to use political language) as he attempts to endear himself to the general public beyond the 160,000 Conservative Party Members who elected him as PM.
Although it seems impossible, it is likely that the Brexit muddle could become even more unclear over the coming weeks as the political games unfold!!
The evolving automotive sector
Boris Johnson has had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the UK automotive industry – and some of its CEOs – over the years.
During his tenure as London Mayor Boris took a huge interest in the electric vehicle movement and announced some particularly admirable targets both for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging point installation (25,000 charging points in place by 2015) and for EV ownership (100,000 EVs on London roads by 2015) within the Greater London Area. Unfortunately, Boris fell short by some 95% on both targets but perhaps what is important is that the ambition and willingness to support the EV industry was there.
At a time when the automotive industry is crying out for major investment and leadership in developing an EV-manufacturing industry in the UK, Boris might just be the champion that is needed.
The recent announcement by JLR that it is to commence electrification of its fleet – starting with the XJ – at its Castle Bromwich plant was a huge boost to the UK car industry. Equally notable in the announcement was the request from JLR CEO Ralf Speth for the Government to support the development of a battery Gigafactory in the UK, warning that “if batteries go out of the UK then also the automotive production will go out of the UK”. Always one to make a splash, the hope is that Boris could row firmly in behind this idea and provide the support to commence a UK push to transition its ageing car-industry into a manufacturing industry of the future.
Whatever happens over the coming weeks, months and years – with Boris at the helm, it certainly won’t be boring!!